AKRON – There has been a level of heightened expectations within Tippecanoe Valley’s girls basketball program. After reaching the state finals in 2015, making an incredible run in the Three Rivers Conference, and producing multiple college basketball prospects, the program has been operating at a very high level.
A 20-4 campaign a year ago once again saw Valley among the state’s elite teams, ranked as high as No. 3 during the season. A heartbreaking injury to then junior guard Emily Peterson followed by a stunning exit from the Fairfield sectional left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many who felt the Lady Vikings were primed to make another deep run in the state tournament.
If Valley wants to return to its lofty perch once again, it will ride the coattails of lone senior returner Sophie Bussard, but will need a whole lotta help from girls who haven’t been in the spotlight before.
Valley has endured several big graduations before during this run that has had the team win 20 games or more in each of the last four years, and go 35-2 in Three Rivers Conference play in that span. The program, however, lost over 31 of its 55 points per game average and four of its five regular starters from last year. One of those players, Peterson, transferred to Warsaw for her senior year after an ACL injury ended her tournament last year for the Vikings. Asia O’Connor, Olivia Trippiedi and Addy Miller graduated as the most successful senior class in program history, winning 92 games, three sectional and three TRC titles.
Bussard is back, however, and will carry the expectations on her shoulders. Already committed to play basketball at Division 1 Southeast Missouri State, she returns to Valley having led the team in all four major categories last season. Hitting for 16.8 points per game, she also recorded six rebounds, three assists and three steals a night. Bussard scored 10-plus points in all but three games last year, and all three of those games were nine-point efforts. One, however, against Wawasee in the sectional semi-final loss, saw her go 4-12 from the floor as Wawasee dared anyone else to beat them, which ultimately knocked out the Vikings.
With only two Valley returners other than Bussard with 20-plus games of varsity experience, it could be a shaky start to the year.
“It will be a tough start to the season for this group with so many early road games and our lack of varsity experience overall,” said Valley head coach Chris Kindig. “However, I fully expect this team to get better and better as the season progresses. We can’t afford to overlook anybody on our schedule. The margin of error is maybe smaller than in the past few years, so this particular team will need to consistently bring their “A” game every night to win basketball games. That will be the challenge, but I believe we can compete with anybody on our schedule if we do that.”
The other two Valley players with significant experience are juniors Makenzie Woodcox and Jillian Walls. Woodcox, who had a very productive volleyball season this fall, posted 3.4 points and 3.0 rebounds a night last season in a back-up role, or being paired with O’Connor to give Valley two trees in the middle. Walls saw significant time at guard for Valley, and had some decent scoring nights, netting nine against Triton and eight apiece against Warsaw and Logansport.
“Sophie Bussard has improved her outside shooting and will fill some of that role for us,” Kindig said. “Her diverse skill set will allow us to play her in several different spots. Also, Jillian Walls, a part-time starter for us last year, is more than capable of giving us quality perimeter shooting and has improved her aggressiveness in looking to score. In addition, Sidney Wagner, an athletic sophomore from the JV team last year, has come along nicely in the off-season and we look for her to be a perimeter scoring threat as well.”
From there, Kindig will have to earn his paycheck finding combinations that work. Juniors Emma Craig and Karina Young saw 10 games each of varsity time, but did little other than fill roles. Senior Kennedie Brooks didn’t play varsity ball last year, and the combination of sophomores Sidney Wagner, Hayley Backus and Ashley Butler combined to see eight total varsity appearances.
“It is going to be very important that this team play hard and together,” Kindig said. “Chemistry will go a long way in determining ultimately how successful this season will be. That means that Sophie Bussard must be Sophie Bussard night in and out, but she can’t do it by herself. Our three posts, Makenzie Woodcox, Haley Backus and Karina Young, must step up and give us quality inside play on both ends to take the pressure off of our perimeter players.”
Valley will begin its 2018-19 season Thursday at Bremen.